Best New Music: “Drake” by Benny Lackner Trio

Speaking about the skills and talent of German-born pianist Benny Lackner, someone once said that he doesn’t have to be afraid of any comparisons to composers like Keith Jarrett or Brad Mehldau, and that “he has found his place in the upper league of Jazz Piano Trios“. Of course, this looks like an important and bold statement, which in any case reinforces an objective reality: the music composed by Lackner and played by the pianist with his bandmates is absolutely profound and engaging.

I can’t judge today whether the comparison between Lackner and the two above mentioned masters of “Jazz Trio” is correct or not. What I can say, for sure, is that the direction undertaken by Lackner to reach the top seems the right one one. Jarreth and Mehldau (who’s been one of Lackner’s mentors, by the way) have contributed to the development of this genre of Jazz with a depth and a resonance that perhaps is still unsurpassed; Lackner’s musical production, in any case, can be definitely considered within the most precious and exciting things we heard in the last few years.

Born in Berlin to an american father and a german mother, Benny Lackner, moved to California at the age of 13, where he studied Jazz with his mentor Brad Mehldau.

Drake is the new album from the Benny Lackner Trio, and since the first time I started listening to it there has been one special thing which amazed me more everything else, and this is the adoption of an extremely essential musical language, at times minimal, which is incredibly far from those mere demonstrations of technique and virtuosity that too often we hear in modern Jazz. In this sense, Lackner has found a extremely personal code for breaking the rules of standard Piano Trio music. The modernity and innovation of Lackner ‘s style, to some extent, are the characteristics that bring him closer to the giants of Jazz that were mentioned before.

“Drake” is Benny Lackner Trio’s 6th album

Drake offers to the listeners a very elegant, sober, and extremely delicate collection of Jazz music blended with contemporary electronic elements. The piano is at the centre of every composition, but we would make a great mistake by relegating the two supporting musicians (bassist Jerome Regard and drummer Matthieu Chazarenc) to the role of pure accompaniment. The two are in fact the architects of those rarefied and magical atmospheres that we find in all the tracks of the LP.

Benny Lackner Trio consists of Benny Lackner (piano and effects), Matthieu Chazarenc (drums) and Jerome Regard (bass and effects)

The rhythms in Drake are moderately slow. All the chords, and sometimes the single notes, seem to arrive after a profound phase of reflection on the harmonic and melodic effect they will produce on the song. There is little sense of spontaneousness, and we don’t feel either the immediacy of the typical Jazz improvisation process, which is however compensated by a persistent attention to maintaining a constant sonic balance throughout the pieces.

The result is a music that, at least from an objective point of view, should appear cold, almost mathematical, but that actually evokes continuous streams of emotions. That’s the magic and uniqueness of Lackner’s music, which, in the end, is absolutely enjoyable to listen to.


My overall rating for the LP is 8/10. This is one of the best Jazz albums among those I’ve listened so far in 2019. It’s not easy to indicate which are my favourite pieces because it’s the overall level of quality of the LP which makes the difference. Anyway, there are a bunch of songs which evoked the strongest emotions: Tears, It’s Gonna Happen, Yorke and the opening track I Told You so.



Drake is available on iTunes and it can be streamed also from Spotify. The album is now featured in The JAZZ MUSIC Radar, which is the playlist collecting the best Jazz songs released since the beginning of the year.


Quick Review: “Black Blank” by Laurent Assoulen

The first time I had the pleasure to listen to the music played by French pianist Laurent Assoulen, the thing that impressed me the most was not his technique or virtuosity, but rather his clear passion for fascinating melodies, ethnic sounds and popular tunes. What he does in most of his compositions is basically to start from a beautiful and catchy motif, and then manipulate and elaborate into an intriguing Jazz piece.


Assoulen’s new album, named Black Blank, can be divided into two main groups of songs. On the one hand, we have a number of pieces that reflect the modern canons of contemporary Jazz, still with a special emphasis on melody and catchiness. These songs are all extremely sweet, serene and seem perfect to accompany many moments of our days. Someone could lack something in terms of harmonic complexity and improvisation, but this is balanced an accentuated weight of the melodic component.


The second group of songs is the one where Assoulen ventures into the field of World music, mixing the typical dynamics of Jazz with deeply suggestive ethnic sounds and melodies. These two categories of songs alternate along the LP, making the listening experience extremely dynamic and lively.


I’m giving this album a rating of 6/10. Black Blank is the perfect LP for all those moments in which we want to enjoy elegant and fascinating melodies, and leaving our mind free to travel into distant regions of the world.

My favourite songs of the LP are: Every Day is a New Life, Col Chic, Far Away and Waking up in Africa.



Black Blank can be streamed from Spotify, and a couple of songs from the LP are now featured on two of the playlists that are curated by the blog: The Voyager (special selections in World Music) and The JAZZ MUSIC Radar (the best jazz songs of 2019). Enjoy, and follow them!


Quick Review: “Diario de Vuelo” by Jose Carra

Pianist and composer Jose Carra is considered one of the most creative artists of the new generation of Spanish jazz musicians. His discography as leader consists of four LPs: 2012′ s Ewig, 2014’s El Camino, the succesful 2016’s Verso and his newest record Diaro de Vuelo (“Flight Journal”). Carra has also gained much appreciation as composer of music for movies and theater works, as well as compositions and arrangements for different symphony orchestras.

In general terms, Jose Carra’s style is strongly influenced by classical music and jazz, and all of his compositions feature many poetic and cinematic elements. These characteristics are fully confirmed in Diaro de Vuelo, where Carra is supported by bassist Bori Albero and drummer Dani Domínguez.

The album apparently signs the beginning of a new phase of experimentation for Jose Carra. In many songs of the album, in fact, the Spanish musician has started to insert a number of effects on his piano, and he’s also expanding the borders of his music by introducing synthesizers and tape recordings. The final result is generally positive, despite it follows the same trend that’s been initiated by other musicians in the last decade.


Musically speaking, Diario de Vuelo fits into that line of contemporary Jazz that looks at rock and pop as sources of external inspirations. In some of the songs of the LP there are clear references to the music of GoGo Penguin and also some works from Tigran Hamasyan. In this sense, I can say that his skill as a pianist seems still to prevail over that of a trio leader, in the sense that whenever he plays the piano solo we can appreciate an originality of style and a level of emotion that we don’t always find when the trio plays in full.


Diario de Vuelo results in the end a very good record, and also one of the best of his career so far. The album is also characterized by a nice variation of atmospheres, which make the listening experience absolutely rewarding.

My rating for the album is 7/10.

Diario de Vuelo can be streamed from Spotify.

Highlights: 2008, 97%, AlbaNocturna.


The Magic of Three: 3 GREAT ALBUMS FROM CONTEMPORARY JAZZ TRIOS

The Jazz trio strikes a delicate balance. The larger the band, the more limited the possibilities for each musician. Each instrument needs to find its place in the sonic palette and rhythmic scheme. The smaller the band the more limited the varieties of timbre. Each instrument needs to provide enough variety of sounds and phrases to keep the listeners interest.

By reducing the number of musicians, a trio opens more space in the sonic texture for each musician to explore. In larger ensembles each musician can be forced into pre-determined roles by the very nature that each instrument must compete for space in the sound spectrum. Without careful orchestration of parts the group easily descends into a cacophony of chaos (though at times chaos may be a desired effect).

(from University of Michigan‘s blog)

 


 

Readers of this blog know how much I like Jazz trios, and in fact many posts and playlists have been dedicated to this unique ensemble. In this post I’m presenting a few excellent albums that I had the opportunity to enjoy since the beginning of 2018.

 


 

 

“CONTRA LA INDECISION” by Bobo Stenson Trio

 

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This great Swedish trio consists of Bobo Stenson on piano, Anders Jormin on double bass, and Jon Fält on drums. “Contra la indecision” is the trio’s first new recording in six years.

Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and his trusty and consolidated trio are back with another precious album of spectacular jazz. Contra la Indecisión, the latest record that the trio has recorded for ECM, is the eleventh since the first that they released in 1971. The music played by Stenson and his companions in this new album is based on slowed rhythms and rarefied atospheres, on top of which we hear sometimes melodic and cantabile musical lines, and in some other cases hints of intermittent, whispered and delicate motifs. The general impression that comes from this album is undoubtedly that of a trio of artists that are confident of their expressive possibilities and free from any pression to demonstrate their skill with special effects. On the contrary, they appear clear from any constraint (or indecision, as the title suggests) and able to enjoy – well before the listener – of the pleasure of traveling through the beautiful music they can create together.


 

 

“NOW” by Aka Moon

 

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After a journey of initiation in Central Africa with the Aka Pygmies, Fabrizio Cassol, Michel Hatzigeorgiou and Stephane Galland embarked on a wide-ranging musical exploration that was then totally innovative and which led to a series of albums that has marked the history of this legendary jazz trio.

Aka Moon is the great Belgian jazz trio founded twenty-five years ago by saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol, bassist Michel Hatzigeorgiou and drummer Stephane Galland. These three musicians have published an impressive number of albums, all characterized by a unique musical curiosity, something which led them explore the most disparate influences from the most remote places in the world, and also to mix together elements from jazz and rock music. But the real secret of this trio has been always the capacity to combine an exhausting research for the perfect detail with a strong sense of musicality, something which makes their songs definitely accessible and always enjoyable. In their latest work, NOW, we may appreciate two main elements: first, the intriguing and “unstable” atmospheres that make all songs oscillating between light and darkness; secondly, the beauty of the dialogue that develops between the saxophone and the bass. These two instruments seem to follow each other along a never-ending race, until they unite  – in brief moments – where their contributions are joined together and unleash an explosive unison of energy.


 

 

“ABSENCE” by Kristjan Randalu, Ben Monder, Markku Ounaskari

 

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Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu makes his ECM debut with a striking album of his own rigorous-yet-lyrical music, sensitively played by a trio formed especially for this recording, with US guitarist Ben Monder and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari (from ECM webpage)

As already discussed in the pages of this blog, the “jazz trio” is presumably the form of music which guarantees the best trade off between the richness of the sound and the possibilities of improvisation for the performers. But it’s only when we are in front of an album like Absence that we really understand how far the boundaries of music can be really stretched, both for what concerns the breadth of sound and the possibilites for the musicians to create melodic lines and counterpoints that were initially unimaginable. On the other hand, the three musicians who are involved in this album are true masters of contemporary Jazz: Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, American guitarist Ben Monder and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. This is not an easy record, however, mainly because of the multiplicity of elements that are interlocked on each other: avant-garde progressions, classical influences, ambient-like music textures. There are very few points of reference for the casual listener and only those who’re ready to embark into a challenging and varying journey into the sparse and dissonant atmospheres created by this trio will fully enjoy the richness of the material that is offered in the album.


 

If you liked this article, you will enjoy THE ART OF TRIO, my playlist on Spotify with the best and latest jazz songs played by trios.


 

 

 

Best New Music: CONTRA LA INDECISION by Bobo Stenson Trio

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Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and his trusty and consolidated trio are back with another precious album of spectacular jazz. Contra la Indecisión, the latest record that the trio has recorded for ECM, is the eleventh since the first that they released in 1971.

The music played by Stenson and his companions in this new album is based on slowed rhythms and rarefied atospheres, on top of which we hear sometimes melodic and cantabile musical lines, and in some other cases hints of intermittent, whispered and delicate motifs. The general impression that comes from this album is undoubtedly that of a trio of artists that are confident of their expressive possibilities and free from any pression to demonstrate their skill with special effects. On the contrary, they appear clear from any constraint (or indecision, as the title suggests) and able to enjoy – well before the listener – of the pleasure of traveling through the beautiful music they can create together. In this context, the trio capitanated by Stenson plays in the album some of the most exciting jazz tracks of those we have listened in the recent months and the album is already competing – despite it’s early release – for entering the top positions among the best jazz publications of 2018.

For a group that has been playing together for so many years, we can’t be surprised by the sense of cohesion that permeates this record. What impressesed me positively, in this case, was the inexhaustible vein of inspiration that Bobo Stenson continues to find in the face of such a long career. As a matter of fact his language is absolutely modern, exciting and communicative.

The style of improvisation adopted by the trio is functional to maintain a long expressive balance throughout the songs rather than diverting attention to new directions. The most eclectic of the three, in this case, is undoubtedly the drummer Jon Fäl. Anders Jormin’s bass, on the other hand, seems to be fully dedicated to guarantee an harmonic support for the other two musicians and there are in fact long sections of the songs in which we hear piano and drums chasing each other, with the bass in the background keeping the order between the two companions.

Contra la Indecisión was releases on January 19, 2018.

Release Notes by ECM:

Stenson’s lyrical touch, Jormin’s folk-flavoured arco bass and Jon Fält’s flickering, textural drumming are all well-displayed on Contra la indecision, the trio’s first new recording in six years. Produced by Manfred Eicher, the album was recorded at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI studio in May 2017.

As ever, the group draws upon a wide range of source materials. A yearning title song by Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, Bartók’s adaptation of a Slovak folk song, a piece from Mompou’s Cançons I Danses collection, and Erik Satie’s Elégie all fit into the programme, alongside original compositions and group improvising. So strong is the group’s character and the musical identity of each of its members that the assimilation of this material always seems organic and logical. As the New York Times put it, “In Stenson’s records you don’t hear strategies or contentions, but a natural working flow.

Bobo Stenson and Anders Jormin have been musical partners for more than thirty years now. Early shared projects included work in the co-operative band Rena Rama with saxophonist Lenart Åberg; Stenson also played on Jormin’s 1984 album Nordic Light. Anders subsequently joined Bobo Stenson’s trio, working with its succession of drummers – first Rune Carlsson, then Jon Christensen (see the ECM albums Reflections, War Orphans and Serenity), and Paul Motian (Goodbye).


THE ART OF THE TRIO, a retrospective of the importance of the Trio in Contemporary Jazz with a selection of the latest and best releases

Jazz lovers know very well the importance of Trio in moder music and also how many good albums are released today with this particular setting of musicians. As a matter of fact, the Jazz Trio seems to be one of the preferred format for a large number of renowned and established musicians, presumably for the possibility they have to be at the same time the leader of the ensemble but also leaving to the other musicians the chances to unleash all their creativity and, as such, to optimize the contribution of each player to the final musical result.

To celebrate this special type of Jazz I recently started assembling a playlist on Spotiy with the best ensembles and the best songs that are released for Trios. This is going to be a “living” point of collection for all the new Jazz that will be published from now on, so my recommendation is to follow the playlist and check it regularly for new exciting updates. On my side, I obviously commit myself to include only those works that truly deserve your attention.

Below I’ve also put a few excerpts from two interesting articles that provide a more formal analysis of the importance and the advantages of Jazz Trios in modern music. Visit these pages for getting adequate background and explanations.

 


 

The Trio Advantage

(from University of Michigan‘s blog)

The trio strikes a delicate balance. The larger the band, the more limited the possibilities for each musician. Each instrument needs to find its place in the sonic palette and rhythmic scheme. The smaller the band the more limited the varieties of timbre. Each instrument needs to provide enough variety of sounds and phrases to keep the listeners interest.

By reducing the number of musicians, a trio opens more space in the sonic texture for each musician to explore. In larger ensembles each musician can be forced into pre-determined roles by the very nature that each instrument must compete for space in the sound spectrum. Without careful orchestration of parts the group easily descends into a cacophony of chaos (though at times chaos may be a desired effect).


 

The Trio Format

(Ned Judy)

Jazz piano trio has become a popular ensemble format in the modern era. This setting includes bass and drums, however the piano is usually featured. The pianist plays most of the principal themes, and improvises solos in nearly every piece. While this ensemble format is now common, trios featuring piano were rare in the early years of jazz, and often included a wind instrument for which the pianist provided accompaniment. The development of the jazz piano trio occurred over a period of decades, across a span of several jazz styles, and with significant changes in instrumentation. Ultimately, the trio has become a powerful vehicle for expression for the jazz pianist, providing him with the support of a rhythm section, while allowing him great freedom. Most modern jazz pianists have led trios, and some pianists from earlier periods, who established their careers before the widespread use of this format, have led trios in more recent times.


 

Thank God It’s Jazz – Brand New Contemporary Jazz Songs – TGIJ #002 (Best of Jazz in February 2017, the playlist)

The best of modern contemporary Jazz. That’s the second release of Guerino’s series of Montlhy Jazz Selections and covers the best albums released in February 2017. The current issue contains works by Nicolas Kummert, Ralph Towner, Omer Klein, Cameron Graves, Colin Vallon Trio and Benoît Lugué.